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Alex Chadwick - Commentary  






Dogon Country  

Environmental Recording 22:50 - 24:05 Play 22:50 - More
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Village ambi  







Interview 24:12 - 1:38:19 Play 24:12 - More
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Hogon Samba  






Dogon culture and beliefs; translated by Roberto Cerea  

NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
27 Jan 2003

  • Mali
  • near Bandiagara; village of Goumo
  • 14.35   -3.616667
  • Stereo
    Sampling Rate
  • 48kHz
    Bit Depth
  • 16-bit
  • Sennheiser MKH 30
  • Sennheiser MKH 50
    Equipment Note
  • Decoded MS Stereo

Show: Mali - Issa
Log of DAT #:18A
Engineer: Leo
Date: January 27, 2003

S = Hogon Samba
IM = Issa Mohammed
R = Roberto Cerea
WD = Wade Davis
CR = Chris Rainier
AC = Alex Chadwick
CJ = Carolyn Jensen
Leo = Leo del Aguila

0:31 AC
We're just starting up hill here to go to the Dogon village of Goumo. This is a village high on a cliff-side. An American might compare it to the kinds of communities that we know of, of the Pueblo Indians in the Southwest. That is these very elaborate villages built right into the sides of the cliffs. Here's a couple of Dogon boys going right on by us.

FX. Boys walking.

1:00 AC
That how they build here in the Dogon culture along this, along this high cliff that runs for miles and miles and miles. The homes the villages and the burial caves of the ancestors are all up here above us and we're walking up to them now. It's steep, it's a long ways.

Ambi. Walking sounds.

1:57 AC
This is the, this is the second time we've made this climb today. We're going up to interview the Hogon, who's the leader of this village. We spoke to him earlier about Hogon beliefs and we're coming back this afternoon to finish the interview.

Ambi. Walking.

3:34 AC
(faintly). It's all very rocky.

3:39 AC
It's all very rocky, very steep. It's, uh, it's half-way between a hike and a climb. It's, uh, pretty steep. It'd be a bad place to take a fall.

Ambi. Walking

5:12 AC
It's a little, little kind of a flat section here and then we get to the really steep part where we have to climb across a large rock face.

Ambi. Walking

Leo says hi and that he's adjusting the mic.

6:43 AC
Uh, okay, we've come to the rock face here just ahead and Leo's going to stop recording because I don't think you can record and climb that at the same time.

Leo says he came with the elder and that they should take the route of the elder instead.

Ambi. Walking

8:15 AC
This hike is a scramble from boulder to boulder to boulder. There are huge rocks here.

Ambi. Walking, heavy breathing.

Leo asks Alex if he's happy they took the elders route.

9:31 AC
We're several hundred feet in elevation now above the valley floor and it just spreads out below us. There's another ridge probably, uh, oh a mile away and running west from here it drops off and ends and the valley spreads out. Through the valley haze, about 5 or 6 miles away, I can see another set of hills and ridge lines over there. So it's rocky, really rocky country here.

Ambi. Bird chirps. Walking sounds.

11:39 AC
This is the entrance to the village. A series of stone terraces, uh, leading on up to where the huts are. You can't actually¿huts I call them they're really houses, they're really substantial. You can't actually see them from down below though, you have to get up here. When the Dogon came here they were fleeing, they were fleeing from the invasion of Islam and from slave raiders. When the Dogon came here they were on the run. They came from hundreds of miles to the West in Mali. They came here fleeing Islam and slave raiders and on this hill they found refuge. And all along this escarpment that runs 80 miles they built these communities high up, wonderful defensive positions and they were safe. And they've been here since 14-1500.

14:02-19:17 Ambi. Hike to Dogon village. (Leo is breathing heavy)

19:18 AC-Okay, we made it. It's a half hour, maybe a little more, and a good walk. We've been driving in trucks around the Sahara desert for 10 days, we've been driving down to Dogon country. We've been mostly driving. At last we're walking, and climbing, up hill. So we'll go see the village and talk to the Hogon.

20:00-21:02 Ambi. Hike into village of Dogon, drinking water.

21:09 AC-The village is here. It's most of the way up the cliff face, but above it the cliff rises for another couple of hundred of feet at least and the actual village part is actually built into this great hollow in the face of the cliff. It just hangs over us. I guess it would provide some protection from the rain, at least if it was coming from the west. But anyway, it provides an echo chamber effect in this village, you hear sounds very well and it provides kind of an enclosement so that the houses are together it provides a sense of community here.

22:51-24:05 Ambi. Sound from the village.

24:14 AC-¿Seat of the Hogon? Is this where the Hogon always sits?


24:33 Samba-Dogon

24:59 Ammado Aguba-(sounds off mic, low audio) It's not only for the Hogon, everybody can sit here. But there is another house, okay, that is only for the Hogon

R-There is a special house for the Hogon in the village.

25:38 AC-I'd like to talk more about your ancestors if I could.



26:03 AC-I've read about the care of the ancestors of the, they wouldn't ¿when people die in this village they take their bones above so all the ancestors are in the caves above us. Why do they do that?

27:05 S-Dogon

28:12 R-That is the house of the Tele. We made it into what the Tele left behind.


28:30 R-With this rope we bring the bodies on the caves, but not all the villages in the cliffs do it. That is this one village's tradition.

28:44 AC-The rope you're pointing to is a big coil of rope that's sitting behind us here in this cave. It looks like it might be at least a hundred feet long.


29:02 Dogon

30:04 R-In fact there was another rope but we were told that maybe by keeping using it maybe it was going to break so they left the rope here in the Falees the cliff close to the village and they buy a new one.


R-If you want to see they can bring the new rope.

30:32 AC-Uh, no, that's fine, thank you. I don't know how, how far back the Dogon would follow a family history. Would he know how many of his ancestors are buried up above us? How many of the ancestors does the Hogon have that are buried up above here?


31:09 S-Dogon

31:53 R-He says that he doesn't know how many ancestors there are in the caves, the people that are new there in the caves there are three, but he doesn't know how many.

AC-And who are those, who are those three. Would he know the names of them?


32:22 S-Dogon

R-He knows their names

AC-Of just the three or of those who died before?


33:12 R-Honestly he says about the ancestors I know just about the names of these three. If you want I can give you their names.

AC-Are they his father, grand-father, and great-grandfather? Who are they and what are their relation to him?


33:46 S-Dogon

34:31 R-So now he says therefore his father and generations before his father, so his grandfather, and the father of the great-grandfather.

34:45 AC-But in my culture that would be a lot to know. In my country that would be a lot to know.


35:14 S-Dogon

R-He says I know them very well and I know their names.

35:31 AC-I know my father, of course, my grandfather, I know my great-grandfather, I actually met my great-grandfather, but I don't know the name of my great grandfather's father.



36:17 R-He says I know only grandfather.

39:19 AC-Are all four, were all four Hogons?



36:31 R-Yes, they were all Hogons.

AC-So there's a lot of knowledge in his family, a lot of leadership, power?

37:02 S-Dogon

37:09 R-They know a lot of things.

37:12 AC-When someone dies do you have to, to become truly an ancestor. I think I read about the Dogon generally, you die and then you might be put in the cave at one point and in some cases it might take a year or two years later when you can arrange a big enough festival, but until you do that, until the festival, the person isn't really an ancestor.


38:40 S-Dogon

40:20 AC-After someone dies how soon do you have a funeral?



41:21 R-He says that when somebody dies they perform the funeral 7 days after the death.

AC-Seven days after? And what happens at the funeral, what do they do?


41:56 S-Dogon

43:30 R-So when is the time for the burial they say something. They say if you¿you have been created and now you have been called away. So if you die, you died because of somebody who killed you¿that person has to die by three days, in the next three days and after that they bury the person.

44:09 AC-Is that if a person has died in battle or something or is this someone who may have died because someone put a spell on them or a curse on them?


44:43 S-Dogon

45:30 R-He says that if somebody died suddenly they considered that is God who killed him, but if somebody dies after a long disease they say God can't kill somebody like this so they say that somebody else is killing them, so is what they say in that case.

AC-When you say God what do you mean?


46:15 S-Dogon

47:30 R-When he's talking about God he talks about God because people they use this word, but in fact he doesn't know anything.

Alex asks Ammadu (the Hogon) if he needs a seat because he keeps moving away from the mic.

48:38 AC-What is the name of (?)


48:53 AA-They call him Amma

48:56 AC-Is this the God of the sky?


49:04 S-Dogon

49:20 R-We call him just Amma, we don't know where he lives. If he is in the sky or on the¿

AA-Ground, he doesn't know.

49:29 AC-What does this God do?


49:38 S-Dogon

50:36 R-He says as the Muslims they call God Allah, we call God Amma, and we recognize that he is the creator.

AC-The creator?


AC-Okay. Um, we have read, we have read that the Dogon call on their ancestors. When someone has died does this become someone that you would pray to or call upon in some way?


51:52 S-Dogon

52:52 R-We can make Assama thanks for the father or the grandfather because the father is the one who gave you the life and so you knew him, nobody knows God, but everybody knows the father at the beginning of life. So when we need something it is to our father that we address our prayers.

53:47 AC-Well what do you pray to your father for?


54:03 S-Dogon

54:51 R-What he's asking to his father is protection, blessings, and a lot of happiness.

AC-Was your father a good hunter?



R-He was very good.

AC-Would you pray to your father for help with the hunt?




55:31 AC-If you have a good hunt do you feel it is because you are a good hunter or because your father has answered your prayers?


56:04 Dogon

56:21 R-He says if I get something it is especially because of my father because he left to me many secrets.

56:32 AC-So you pray to him and also he is¿so you pray to him, but also he has taught you things. It's not quite clear whether he is saying his prayers were answered or it was because his father taught him how to be a good hunter.


57:28 Dogon

58:42 R-Now what is show is that my father and my grandfather are helping me for the secrets they left for me because about and about the protection they can't protect me until the part I don't die.

AC-They can't protect?

R-They can't protect


R-They don't protect me now hundred percent because they can't protect that I die.

59:19 AC-Would everyone in the, would everyone pray also to their father and their grandfather, and even their great-grandfather?


59:44 Dogon

1:01:06 R-He says that the prayers, the three brothers they are praying their father, grandfather, and great-grandfather because all these people they are dead and their children they don't pray because their fathers are still alive. The day when all the three dead so Ammadu the senior son will take over and they will pray then, the three brothers then.

1:01:44 AC-When you pray to your father and your grandfather are you praying to the memory of your father and your grandfather or are you praying to the soul of your father and grandfather. If you can be clear on that¿


1:02:43 Dogon

1:04:41 R-When I'm addressing my prayers to them is not just to thinking about them like a souvenir.

AC-A souvenir?

R-A souvenir, a memory. Because if I make a mistake, if I am doing wrong they will find a way to manifest to me.

AC-They will manifest themselves to you? How do they manifest themselves to you?


1:05:25 Dogon

1:06:30 R-So how they manifest to¿everything I will try to do will collapse, doesn't work. There will be a mess in the family. By this way I know they don't agree with me.

AC-So are the spirits of your father and grandfather watching over you most of the time, watching over the village?


1:07:20 Dogon

1:08:07 R-So he says yes, they're watching me all the time and they talk to me in the dream. They start one time warning me and if I'm still wrong they will warn me a second time and if I'm still wrong they will attack me with a disease and we die.

1:09:37 AC-So these are very powerful spirits if they come to you in your dreams and they give you two warnings, three warnings and then they kill you if you don't do what they say.


1:10:51 Dogon

1:13:14 R-We bring up the ancestors with the rope, but every time there is a problem they come back to us.


1:13:41 R-He says if there is a problem and they warn you once, twice, three times, and after they kill you because the lesson they teach is you didn't learn from the tradition so come with us and you will be replaced by somebody else.


1:14:20 R-He says that a man to the village in the cliff we are just two villages. This one Goumo and Dougoudo that we keep the traditions coming down from our ancestors and nobody can say something different from that.

1:14:54 AC-This will sound like a foolish question and it probably is a foolish question but where is the spirit of your father and your grandfather. Where do they reside? Are they here with us or are they up in the cavern with the in the grotto with the bones?


1:15:29 S-Dogon

R-(off mic) They live in the caves.

AC-And how do they know to come down when you have trouble


1:15:56 S-Dogon

1:19:13 R-It is quite complex there, he says that right over there that wood is sacred¿

AA-Here, here, here

AC-Right there, that space on the wall 10 feet away from us. There are several branches stacked up there on a pile of rocks.


R-And also the wood is special. He says that is the place they perform the sacrifice, if there are problems, it is not the (?) perform the sacrifice with (?). And the sacrifice is performed right after in front of the spring because the spring was left to them by the ancestors. And so they ancestors always to worship them and get involved with the village if there is a problem

1:20:00 AC-So they make sacrifices right there to his father and his grandfather and even more ancient spirits?


1:20:23 S-Dogon

1:21:20 R-He says that they make a sacrifice for two reasons. One to have all day around water because the water comes from the ancestors. And two during the raining seasons in order to work well in the fields and to have a good harvest. If they don't do the sacrifice the rainy season and the harvest is spoiled for them, but if they do the sacrifice they can live in the village and they don't have any problems here behind here.

1:22:02 AC-The Hogon prays to your father, your grandfather, your great-grandfather. These are the spirits that you know, but someday you will pass and your son will pass, and his son will pass. When that has happened, when the spirits of that living person are not in that person's memory anymore what happens to those spirits?


1:23:34 S-Dogon

1:24:54 R-He says that there will be always somebody representing as a representative of the family making sacrifice in the name of his father and grandfather. So if there is not anymore here his son will make a sacrifice for him and the son of the son will make a sacrifice for his father and grandfather going on and going on, generation by generation.

1:25:24 AC-But he make a sacrifice for his father, his grandfather, his great-grandfather, his great-great grandfather. What about the father of his great-great grandfather. Does that spirit still exist somewhere?


1:26:33 S-Dogon

1:27:28 R-It's like a chain. So the father who died will yet manifest to his son generation to generation. It is always the father who passes away watching his son still on there.


1:28:07 R-So the spirit of the great grandfather considers his first descendant responsible and so on. So the last generation still alive is responsible for the first generation passed away and the first generation watching the last generation still alive.

1:28:49 AC-I think he means that if he keeps alive the spirit of his great-grandfather then his great-grandfather will keep alive the spirits of those who came before him or will keep, I don't know¿



R-He doesn't have any relationship between him and his grandfather.

1:30:05 AC-But then does his father's, does your father's spirit have a relationship with his father's spirit?


1:30:36 Dogon

1:31:59 R-He didn't understand very well the question so when the question was asked again he says I don't know what is¿

AC-Okay, good. We have to go very soon. One thing I really want to know. You say there are just two villages left that still believe in the traditional way. Why do you cling to these beliefs when others have given them up? Do you believe that your way is the true way? This is the way the world really is?


1:33:28 S-Dogon

1:34:09 R-Because it's good for us.


R-We never abandoned the tradition.

AC-But other villages have.


1:34:32 S-Dogon

R-Many villages have left.

AC-Does your father's spirit talk to you about belief? About what you believe?



1:36:00 R-He says they don't, the spirit of my father doesn't have to teach me anything because I know already what he has left to me while he was alive. And looking around at the Christians, the Muslims, are they more happy than me?

1:36:23 AC- Okay, I hope we can come back and talk to you tomorrow. It¿s important that we get one more information on the tape. Alex asks everyone to say who they are and spell names (I've made sure to put this in where they are speaking already). Alex Chadwick: questioning. Robert Cerea, translating from French to English. Amadu Ongweyba, translating from Bambara to French. Hogon: Samba. (means the first son after the daughters born to the family.)

END TAPE 1:38:19

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